Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Little Princess of Tower Hill, Page 3

L. T. Meade



  When the children met next it was at tea-time. There was a very nice andtempting tea prepared in Maggie's schoolroom, and Miss Grey presided, andtook good care to attend to the wants of the hungry little traveler. Ralphlooked a very different boy sitting at the tea-table munchingbread-and-butter, and disposing of large plates of strawberries and cream,from what he did when Maggie met him at Ashburnham station. He was nolonger in the least excited; he was neatly dressed, with his hair wellbrushed, and his hands extremely clean and gentlemanly. He was polite andattentive to Miss Grey, and thanked her in quite a sweet voice for thelittle attentions which she lavished upon him. Maggie was far too excitedto feel hungry. She could scarcely take her round blue eyes off Ralph,who, for his part, did not pay her the smallest attention. He wasconversing in quite a proper and grown-up tone with the governess.

  "Do you really like flat countries best?" he said. "Ah! I suppose, then,you must suffer from palpitation. Mother does very much--she finds salvolatile does her good; did you ever try that? When I next write to mother,I'll ask her to send me a little bottle, and when you feel an attack comingon, I'll measure some drops for you. If you take ten drops in a littlewater, and then lie down, you don't know how much better you'll get. Thankyou, yes, I'll have another cup of tea. I like a good deal of cream,please, and four or five lumps of sugar; if the lumps are small, I don'tmind having six. Well, what were we talking about? Oh, scenery! I likehilly scenery. I like to get on the top of a hill, and race down as fast asever I can to the bottom. Sometimes I shout as I go--it's awfully niceshouting out loud as you're racing through the air. Did you ever try that?Oh, I forgot; you couldn't if you suffer from palpitation."

  "I like steep mountains, and flying over big precipices," here burst fromMaggie. "I hate flat countries, and I don't think much of running downlittle hills. Give me the mountains and the precipices, and you'll see howI'll scamper."

  Ralph raised his eyebrows a tiny bit, smiled at Maggie with a gentle pityin his face, and then, without vouchsafing any comment to her audaciousobservations, resumed his placid conversation with the governess.

  "Mother and I have been a good deal in Switzerland, you know," hecontinued, "so of course we can really judge what scenery is like. I gottired of those great mountains after a bit. I'm very fond indeed ofEngland, particularly since I have spent so much of my time with Jo. Do youknow my little friend Jo, Miss Grey?"

  "No, Mr. Ralph, I cannot say I do. Is he a nice little boy? Is he aboutyour age?"

  Ralph laughed, but in a very moderate "I beg your pardon," he exclaimed."I hope you were not hurt when I laughed. Mother says it's very rude tolaugh at a grown-up lady, but it seemed so funny to hear you speak of Jo asa boy. She's a girl, quite the very nicest girl in the world; her real nameis Joanna, but I call her Jo."

  Here Maggie, who, after Ralph's ignoring of her last audacious observation,had been getting through her tea in a subdued manner, brightened upconsiderably, shook back her shining curls, and said in a much more gentlevoice than she had hitherto used:

  "I should like to see her."

  "You!" said Ralph. "She's not the least in your style. Well, I've done mytea. Have you done your tea, Miss Grey? And may I leave the table, please?I should like to have a run around the place before it gets dark."

  "And may I come with you?" asked Maggie.

  "Oh, yes, Mag! Come along."

  Ralph held out his hand, which Maggie took with a great deal of gratitudein her heart, and the two children went out together into the sweet summerair.

  Ralph first of all inspected his pigeons, and then his rabbits. He grumbleda good deal over the arrangements made for the reception of his pets, andinformed Maggie that the hutch for the rabbits was but small and close, andthat the dove-cote must be altered immediately, and that he would take careto speak to his Uncle John about it in the morning.

  Maggie agreed with every word Ralph said. She, too, pronounced the hutchsmall and dirty, and said the dove-cote must be altered, and while sheechoed her cousin's sentiments, she felt herself quite big and important,and turned away from the rather smiling eyes of Jim, the stable-boy, whowas in attendance on the pair.

  The children then proceeded to the stable, where Maggie's pretty snow-whitepony was kept.

  "Ah!" said Ralph, "I wish you could see my horse. My horse is black, andrather bigger than this, and he has an eye of fire and such a beautifulglossy, arched neck. I can tell you it is worth something to see Raven.Yes, Maggie, Snowball is rather a nice little pony, and very well suitedfor you, I should imagine."

  "I don't like him much," said Maggie, who until this moment had adored herpet. "I like flashy, frisky horses. I like them fresh, don't you, Ralph?"

  "Don't talk nonsense!" said Ralph rather pertly. "Now where shall we go?"

  "Oh, Ralph, I should like to show you my garden. I dare say father willgive you a little garden near mine if we ask him. I'm building a rockery. Idon't work in my garden very often, 'cause it's rather tiresome, but I likebuilding my rockery, and when we go to the seaside, I shall gather lots ofshells for it. Come, Ralph, this is the way."

  "Never mind to-night," said Ralph. "Here is a nice seat on this littlemossy bank. If you like to sit by me, Maggie, we can talk."

  Maggie was only too pleased. Ralph stretched himself on the soft velvetygrass, put his hands under his head, and gazed up at the sky; Maggie tookcare to imitate his position in all particulars. She also put her handsunder her head, and gazed through her shady hat up at the tall trees wherethe rooks were going to sleep.

  That night the rather spoiled little princess of Tower Hill lay awake forsome time. It was very unusual for Maggie to remain for an instant out ofthe land of dreams. The moment she laid her curly head on the pillow sheentered that pleasant country, and, as a rule, she stayed there and enjoyeddelightful times with other dream-children until the morning. On thepresent occasion, however, sleep did not visit her so quickly; she wasdisturbed by the events of the day. Ralph was a very new experience in herlittle life; she thought of all he had said to her, of how he had looked,of his extreme manliness, his fearlessness, and his great politeness toMiss Grey. Maggie owned with a half-sigh that there was nothing at allparticularly gracious in Ralph's manners to her.

  "But I like him all the better for that," she thought. "He treats me as anequal; most likely half the time he forgets that I'm a girl, and believesthat I'm a boy like himself. I wish I were a boy! Wouldn't it be jolly toclimb trees, and fish, and go out shooting with father! I'd be a greatcomfort to Ralph if I were a boy, but I'm not; that's the worst of it. HowI do wish my pony was black, and was called Raven! I think I'll ask fatherto sell Snowball; he's rather a fat, stupid little horse. Ralph's horse hasan eye of fire. How splendid he must be! I wonder if Jo has got a horsetoo, and if it is black, and if its eyes flash. Jo must be a splendid girl.How Ralph did look when he spoke of her! I wish I knew her! Ralph talks ofher as if she were as good as a boy. I dare say she climbs trees, andfishes, and shoots. I should like Ralph to talk of me as he talks of Jo."

  At this stage of Maggie's meditations her bright eyes closed very gently,and she remembered nothing more until the morning.

  The sun shone brightly into her room when she awoke; she had been dreamingabout Jo. She sprang up instantly, and began to dress herself. This featshe had never accomplished before in her life. Two servants, as a rule,waited on the little princess when she made her toilet, but now, with avivid dream of the manly Jo in her mind, and with some vague ideas that shewould please Ralph if she were up very bright and early, she proceeded totumble into her cold bath, and then, after an untidy fashion, to scrambleinto her clothes. At last her dressing was completed, she knelt down for amoment by her bedside to utter a very hasty little childish prayer, andthen ran softly out of her bedroom. She certainly did not know how early itwas, but as there was no one stirring in the house, and as she did not wishnurse to find her and to call her back, and perhaps pop her once more int
obed, she went on tiptoe along the passages until she reached her CousinRalph's bedroom door. She opened the door and went in. The large window ofRalph's bedroom exactly faced his little white bed; the blind of the windowwas up to the top, and the full light of the morning sun shone directly onthe little sleeper's face. Oh, how delightful! thought Maggie. Ralph wasstill sound, sound asleep; she was the good one now, for Ralph wasdecidedly lazy. She went softly to the bedside and gazed at her cousin. Hisarms were thrown up over his head; he was lying on his back, and breathingsoftly and easily. Ralph had a handsome little face, and it looked gentleand sweet in his slumbers. The dauntless expression of his dark eyes, andthe somewhat scornful and hard way in which he looked when he addressedhimself to Maggie, were no longer perceptible. Maggie had a loving littleheart, and it went out to her stranger cousin now.

  "I hope some day he'll like me as well as he does Jo," she murmured, andthen she bent down and printed the lightest of light kisses on hisforehead.

  "Bother those flies," muttered Ralph, raising his hand to brush theoffending kiss away. This remark caused Maggie to burst into a peal oflaughter, and of course her laugh aroused the young sleeper.

  "Yes, I'm up," said Maggie, dancing softly up and down. "I'm up, and I'mdressed, and I'm ready to go into the garden. Don't you think it's verygood of me to get up so early? Don't you think I'm about as good as that Joof yours?"

  Ralph had recovered from his first surprise, and now he gazed tranquilly athis little cousin.

  "What's the hour?" he asked.

  Maggie said, "I don't know."

  "Well, you'd better find out," responded Ralph; "it feels very early. Mywatch is on the dressing-table. Do you know the time by a watch yet? If youcan read it, you may, and tell me the hour. How untidily you have dressedyourself!"

  Maggie felt herself growing very red when Ralph asked her if she could tellthe hour by a watch. The fact was, she could not; she had always been toolazy to learn. She went in a faltering way to the dressing-table, feelingquite sure in her little heart that Jo knew all about watches, and that ifshe revealed her ignorance to Ralph, he would despise her for the rest ofher life. Just at this moment, however, relief came, for the stable clockwas heard to strike very distinctly. It struck four times.

  "It's four o'clock," said Maggie.

  "Yes, and what a muff you are!" answered Ralph. "Four o'clock! Why, it'sthe middle of the night. Good-night, Maggie. Please go away, and shut thedoor after you."

  "Then you're not getting up?" questioned the little cousin wistfully.

  "Getting up? No, thank you, not for many an hour to come. Good-night,Maggie. I don't want to be rude, but you really are a little worry comingin and waking me in this fashion."